To be blunt, the Cincinnati Bengals' season-ending loss to the Houston Texans was painful to watch.
In the first five minutes, I knew they had virtually zero shot of winning. Arian Foster was breaking off deflating runs, Andy Dalton was forcing balls to Jermaine Gresham even though he caught virtually nothing, and A.J. Green was swallowed up by double- and triple-teams.
Despite the countless stands the Bengals defense made to keep the game close, I just couldn’t stop focusing on the fact that the offense was completely overmatched and underprepared.
Houston was clearly the better team, and it was only a matter of time before the lovable Bungles walked out with bloody noses and bruised egos once again.
Unfortunately, that result (and that feeling) has become all too common for the Bengals and their fans. Aside from a few blips on the radar (sweeping the division in ‘09, beating banged up Steelers/Ravens squads once each this year), Cincinnati has repeatedly carved out its identity as a second-class citizen in the NFL.
Sure, they can beat teams like Cleveland, Jacksonville and Oakland (an upgrade from Bengals teams past, admittedly), but when it’s time to play a heavyweight, the Bungles always end up doing a swan dive.
This will be a long offseason for the whole Bengal family.
2011 was a surprise, in that a team that was supposed to be terrible, overachieved. 2012, on the other hand, was a surprise in that a team that was supposed to improve lost in the same way to the same team two years in a row, in the game that mattered most.
For eight months Cincy will try to answer some tough questions, and chief among them will be “How the hell can we become a winning franchise, not just a franchise that wins a couple of games?”
Now, the key to achieving that goal could just be the development of the young franchise cornerstones (Dalton, Green, Gresham and Geno Atkins, to name a few). But relying on that and only that would be a classic Bengal blunder (on par with getting into a land war in Asia).
The Pittsburghs, Baltimores and Houstons of the world have good, young players too, and way better organizational structures to boot (Bengals owner Mike Brown will never stop being a nimrod, for example). I’ll never claim to have the mind of a GM, but in order to truly take a step forward, Cincinnati needs to make sure it makes a few key moves this offseason.
Here are three the Bengals could start with...
For whatever reason, the safety position has developed into an afterthought in the NFL. One needn’t look any further than the draft to come to this conclusion.
Cornerbacks and pass-rushers have become the premium positions; positions teams are willing to pay for while being content to draft or sign safeties and linebackers once everything else is taken care of.
Well, call me old-fashioned, but if the Bengals draft one more safety in the fifth or sixth round only to watch him constantly get beat in the preseason and subsequently released, I will personally hire Ronnie Lott to drive to Mike Brown’s house and tear down his gutters.
Sure, cornerbacks and pass-rushers are important, but safeties are cornerbacks and pass-rushers. Watch 10 minutes of a Steelers game and you’ll see Troy Polamalu jump four snap counts, register 1.5 sacks and sprint 30 yards to break up a deep-ball attempt.
These guys have the opportunity to hugely affect the game, yet the Bengals seem to be content running guys like Taylor Mays and Chris Crocker out there and watching them get burnt black by marginal receivers.
I can’t look at it anymore. It’s hideous.
I’ve had enough.
Since the Bengals drafted Rey Maualuga in 2009, he’s gone through one position change, about three body-type transformations, close to 75 minor injuries and approximately seven billion missed tackles.
He’s been the Drew Stubbs of the Bengals; aka worlds of talent and hype, yet average production at best.
I think we all liked Maualuga because of his crazy hair and his college highlight-reel slobberknockers, but it’s now clear that the teams who passed on him in favor of his fellow USC ‘backers might have been onto something.
He is not quick. He does not have good instincts. He cannot tackle.
What’s more, Cincy recently struck gold with Vontaze Burfict, a college middle linebacker and a guy who could make a great argument for being the second-best defender on the team (although Leon Hall might have something to say about that).
I say allow Maualuga to walk, slide Burfict to the middle (Thomas Howard returns to the outside next year) and draft his replacement in one of the later rounds this April.
After all, everyone knows linebackers and safeties are a dime a dozen.
There was a time when I thought BenJarvus Green-Ellis was exactly what the Bengals needed.
Then again, that was when I thought offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s West Coast offense would be able to consistently put together sustained drives through the air, wherein a chain-mover like BJGE would come in handy.
Unfortunately, the Bengal offense (ranked 22nd in the league) was anything but consistent, so the Law Firm’s “two yards if I’m lucky” M.O. got tiresome really fast.
If Jay Gruden’s short passing game can’t pick up crucial yardage in crucial times, he’ll need to develop a running game that presents some sort of threat to defenses. If not, they’ll crowd the box and laugh as Jermaine Gresham runs the wrong route or Andre Smith misses a key block.
Step one toward this end is drafting someone who is everything BJGE is not. That is, someone who can see holes, get to them quickly while staying on his feet, and run faster than the linebackers who are trying to tackle him.
And hey, if he can pick up a few blocks along the way so that Dalton’s pocket doesn’t close like a Death Star trash compactor on speed, then all the better.
Thanks for reading! For more from Reed Domer-Shank, visit his blog: J O U R N E Y M E N . You can also follow Reed on Twitter: @ReedDS20, or contact him directly at Reed.Domershank@gmail.com.